Born at Cartagena
, about 560; died 4 April, 636. Isidore was the last of the ancient Christian Philosophers, as he was the last of the great Latin Fathers
. He was undoubtedly the most learned man of his age and exercised a far-reaching and immeasurable influence on the educational life of the Middle Ages
Isidore was the son of Severianus and Theodora. His elder brother Leander was his immediate predecessor in the Metropolitan See
; whilst a younger brother St. Fulgentius presided over the Bishopric of Astigi. Isidore received his elementary education in the Cathedral
school of Seville
- the trivium
were taught by a body of learned men, among whom was the archbishop
, Leander. He quickly mastered Latin
, and Hebrew
. Though he himself may never have been affiliated with any religious order
, he esteemed them highly. On his elevation to the episcopate
he immediately constituted himself protector of the monks
he pronounced anathema
against any ecclesiastic
who should in any way molest the monasteries. He succeeded to the See of Seville. His long incumbency to this office was spent in a period of disintegration and transition. The ancient institutions and classic learning of the Roman Empire
were fast disappearing. In Spain a new civilization was beginning to evolve itself from the blending racial elements that made up its population.
For almost two centuries the Goths
had been in full control of Spain, and their barbarous manners and contempt of learning threatened greatly to put back her progress in civilization
. Realizing that the spiritual as well as the material well-being of the nation depended on the full assimilation of the foreign elements, St. Isidore set himself to the task of welding into a homogeneous nation the various peoples who made up the Hispano-Gothic
kingdom. To this end he availed himself of all the resources of religion and education. His efforts were attended with complete success. Arianism
, which had taken deep root among the Visigoths
, was eradicated, and the new heresy
was completely stifled at the very outset; religious discipline was everywhere strengthened.
Within his own jurisdiction he had availed himself of the resources of education to counteract the growing influence of Gothic
barbarism. His was the quickening spirit that animated the educational movement of which Seville was the center. The study of Greek and Hebrew as well as the liberal arts, was prescribed. Interest in law and medicine was also encouraged. Through the authority of the fourth council this policy of education was made obligatory upon all the bishops of the kingdom. Long before the Arabs had awakened to an appreciation of Greek Philosophy
, he had introduced Aristotle
to his countrymen.
He was the first Christian
writer to essay the task of compiling for his co-religionists a summa
of universal knowledge. This encyclopedia
epitomized all learning, ancient as well as modern. In it many fragments of classical learning are preserved which otherwise had been hopelessly lost. The fame of this work imparted a new impetus to encyclopedic
writing, which bore abundant fruit in the subsequent centuries of the Middle Ages
The most important and by far the best-known of all his writings is the Etymologiae
, or Origines
, as it is sometimes called. This work takes its name from the subject-matter of one of its constituent books. It was written shortly before his death, in the full maturity of his wonderful scholarship
, at the request of his friend Braulio, Bishop of Saragossa
. It is a vast storehouse in which is gathered, systematized, and condensed, all the learning possessed by his time. Throughout the greater part of the Middle Ages
it was the textbook most in use in educational institutions. So highly was it regarded as a depository of classical learning that in a great measure, it superseded the use of the individual works of the classics themselves. Not even the Renaissance
seemed to diminish the high esteem in which it was held, and according to Arevalo, it was printed ten times between 1470 and 1529. It makes abundantly clear its author possessed intimate knowledge of the Greek and Latin poets. In all, he quotes from one hundred and fifty-four authors, Christian
. Many of these he had read in the originals and the others he consulted in current compilations. In style this encyclopedic
work is concise and clear and in order, admirable. Braulio, to whom Isidore sent it for correction, and to whom he dedicated it, divided it into twenty books.
- The first three of these books are taken up with the trivium and quadrivium. The entire first book is devoted to grammar, including metre. Imitating the example of Cassiodorus and Boethius he preserves the logical tradition of the schools by reserving the second book for rhetoric and dialectic.
- Book four, treats of medicine and libraries;
- book five, of law and chronology;
- book six, of ecclesiastical books and offices;
- book seven, of God and of the heavenly and earthly hierarchies;
- book eight, of the Church and of the sects, of which latter he numbers no less than sixty-eight;
- book nine, of languages, peoples, kingdoms, and official titles;
- book ten, of etymology:
- book eleven, of man;
- book twelve, of beasts and birds;
- book thirteen, of the world and its parts;
- book fourteen, of physical geography;
- book fifteen, of public buildings and roadmaking;
- book sixteen, of stones and metals;
- book seventeen, of agriculture;
- book eighteen, of the terminology of war, of jurisprudence, and public games;
- book nineteen, of ships, houses, and clothes;
- book twenty, of victuals, domestic and agricultural tools, and furniture.
The first edition
s of the work of Isidore were published (in folio
) by Michael Somnius
(Paris, 1580). Another edition that is quite complete is based upon the manuscript
s of Gomez
, with notes by Perez and Grial (Madrid, 1599). Based largely upon the Madrid
edition is that published by Du Breul (Paris, 1601; Cologne, 1617). The last edition of all the works of Isidore, which is also regarded as the best, is that of Arevalo (7 vols., Rome, 1797-1803). It is found in P. L., LXXXI-LXXXIV.
If a man wants to be always in God's company, he must pray regularly and read regularly. When we pray, we talk to God; when we read, God talks to us.
All spiritual growth comes from reading and reflection. By reading we learn what we did not know; by reflection we retain what we have learned.
The conscientious reader will be more concerned to carry out what he has read than merely to acquire knowledge of it. In reading we aim at knowing, but we must put into practice what we have learned in our course of study.
The more you devote yourself to study of the sacred utterances, the richer will be your understanding of them, just as the more the soil is tilled, the richer the harvest.
The man who is slow to grasp things but who really tries hard is rewarded, equally he who does not cultivate his God-given intellectual ability is condemned for despising his gifts and sinning by sloth.
Learning unsupported by grace may get into our ears; it never reaches the heart.
-Book of Maxims by Saint Isidore.
1. J. B. O'Connor, The Catholic Encyclopedia
, Volume VIII, Copyright © 1910.
2. Isidore, of Seville, Saint, d. 636. Etymologiae.
-- Augsburg : Per Gintherum Zainer..., 1472. Osler Library, McGill University.
3. Isidore, of Seville, Saint, d. 636. History of the kings of the Goths, Vandals, and Suevi.
Translated by Guido Donini and Gordon B. Ford, Jr. - Leiden : E. J. Brill, 1966.